Monday, September 18, 2023

Antarctica Half Marathon

Aside form completing the 6 World Major Marathons and a Half Marathon in all 50 United States, I want to run on all 7 continents. So, a few years ago (pre-COVID), I joined the 7 Continents Club. I guess I never read the fine print. It took one of the marathon trips with Marathon Tours and Travel to realize that the rules for the Travel Seven Continents Club is that the races need to be all marathons or all half marathons to meet the seven continents club criteria. Well, after several problems with my IBD while training for the marathons, I decided that six would be it for me. I don't want to take medicine just to finish running a marathon on every continent. In all honesty, even the last 2 half marathons had my IBD in a flare. one of these was the half on Antarctica.

Marathon Tours and Travel has been offering the Antarctica Marathon and Half Marathon since 1995. I have been booked for this race since 2018!!! I was supposed to go in March 2019, but I had just finished the Tokyo Marathon in February 2019, so I postponed the race until 2020. I don't think there were any races on Antarctica in 2020 or 2021 due to COVID. I made a decision in November 2021 to push out my Antarctica trip scheduled for 3/2022 to 3/2023. I needed to schedule knee surgery for a partially torn meniscus. It is a good thing I did because Omicron hit the ship hard in 3/2022. Several people did not race. Ugh, could you imagine going all that way and not being able to race?

It is really hard to get to Antarctica - it is no joke. Aside from getting to Antarctica, physically, it was hard for me to go on an emotional level. I had to listen to Zach Williams song, "Fear is a Liar" over and over and over when I trained. I was nervous, but I had to lay these fears down at God's Feet. 

  • You can't compete anymore - your knee surgery wasn't successful. You still have pain.
  • You are so slow. This race is challenging. You have to climb hill after hill after hill. you will never make it.
  • How dare you put yourself in harms way. You just lost your Dad. You want your family to mourn you as well?
  • How dare you risk your life and travel to Antarctica - you know you're still your kids' only parent.
  • You are so selfish - Ron is trying to be supportive in spite of the fact that you know he gets seasick.
  • What if you have IBD problems on Antarctica? There are no bushes you can run into.
  • It doesn't matter how far you run, where you run, you will never get over that pain.

I had to trust in God. I trust Him and pray that I am on a path that He wants me to be on, fail or succeed, as long as I bring glory to Him. My goal was to run the whole half marathon, regardless of how slow I was, regardless of all my fears, and all the awful lies.

The Marathon Tours Antarctica trip starts in Buenos Aires. I was pretty beat up physically by the time I got to Buenos Aires. I feel I over trained and my IBD was flaring. I did not participate in any outside runs, but I did some treadmill runs a few times at the hotel. Buenos Aires is super hot - and even the gym was hot and humid. So running on the treadmill was challenging. Of course there was a welcome dinner. I met a lot of great runners, and their friends and family. My IBD issues persisted in Buenos Aires, despite only running 3 miles here and there on the treadmill. It seemed that no matter what I ate - nothing was agreeing with me. After 3 days in Buenos Aires, we flew a small plane to Ushuaia. 

Ushuaia is beautiful. It is appropriately named, "Fin del Mundo", The End of the World, as it is the southern most city in the southern hemisphere. 

Fin Del Mundo!

We tooled around for a few hours and had lunch at a super cute cafe before we boarded the Ocean Victory. Mind you, the Ocean Victory is an expedition ship - not like a luxury cruise line. It pales in size to a Norwegian, Carnival or Princess Cruise ships. This makes for quite the experience navigating through the Beagle Channel and the Drake Passage. 

The Ocean Victory

Not quite the National Geographic Ship either . . .

I psyched myself up. I told myself it would be a great trip. Ron and I were in God's hands. We had the world on a string and we were sitting on a rainbow! We even filmed ourselves dancing  - no one had any idea what demons I fought to get to that dance! Ron was so supportive. Thanks, Ron!

Once you get through the Beagle Channel, you sail through the Drake Passage, which is the body of water between South America's Cape Horn, Chile, Argentina and then the South Shetland Islands of Antarctica. The Drake Passage connects the southwestern part of the Atlantic Ocean with the southeastern part of the Pacific Ocean and extends into the Antarctic Ocean. The Drake Passage is considered one of the most treacherous voyages for ships to make. Currents at its latitude meet no resistance from any landmass, so waves can top 40 feet, hence its reputation as "the most powerful convergence of seas". We didn't experience 40 feet swells, thankfully, but 25 feet swells was enough for me. You know it's rough when the crew places vomit bags throughout the stairwells and there are only a few left moments later! Most people wore the motion sickness patch behind the ear. Ron and I used ginger tablets. It wasn't so much the rocking as it was the rocking side to side WITH a big rise on top of a wave with the sudden fall of the wave. Ron nearly fell out of bed one night. I nearly fell out of bed another night. To me, it was rough!

What made it worse was since the winds were so strong, we did not reach land for three days. We were supposed to race on Sunday, but with the winds so strong, we had to do the trip backwards, and the race was rescheduled for Wednesday. Of course, no matter how clean I eat, additional stress like this, resulted in major Crohn's difficulties. As mentioned above, from the training and likely the passing of my Dad, I was already inflamed. I started to drink black coffee in the AM with the gluten free bread I brought and a little almond butter, which I also brought. During the day, I would hardly eat anything, and for dinner, I would order one baked potato, grilled chicken (no soy or corn oil) and steamed vegetables. I drank lots of green tea. I was not very social - due to my embarrassing urgency issues, but the one morning we sat down with some folks from New Zealand. Ugh - I had to keep excusing myself. I lost count at how many times I got up from breakfast after the fifth or sixth time! When we were finally able to make a Zodiac boat land expedition, I was nervous my stomach would get me in trouble. In fact during every Zodiac expedition we made in the morning and every zodiac cruise we made in the afternoon, I prayed my IBD would behave. 

Still, having a biology and environmental science background, I felt blessed in spite of my IBD issues. I saw some of the most amazing glaciers, cruised around brash icebergs, saw Gentoo and Chinstrap penguins, Fur and Elephant seals, as well as Blue, Fin, and Humpback whales! It was amazing! As we toured around the Shetland Islands and up to King George Island, where the race was planned, I took in the most amazing sights - beautiful sunrises, rainbows, and sunsets.

Penguin Welcome Wagon!!!

Beautiful Antarctica Glaciers

Remember M.A.S.H. ?

Seal Sunbathing

Gentoo and Chinstrap Penguins

Beautiful Rainbows

Zodiac Cruise Among Icebergs

Finally, race day came. Since Ron was not running, he offered to volunteer setting up the race. I think Ron left at 4:30AM on a Zodiac ship. 

I was, of course doing my pre-race morning thing: Drinking coffee, eating homemade grain free banana bread, drinking lots of water, foam rolling, and eventually planning my medicine - prescription Imodium. That morning, I planned 1-tablet every hour after my morning routine. We were supposed to leave at 6AM, but the winds were too strong. I believe we left at 8AM. I felt blessed to be able to have a few more hours for the medicine to settle in.

We were called, like we were all week long, by color group, to the locker room. Every Zodiac cruise was completed in an orderly fashion. On race day, we made our way to the locker rooms wearing race gear - tights, sneakers, under layer, fleece layer, hat, rain jacket, dry outer pants layer. 

Locker rooms with Gear for Zodiac Excursions

Once in the locker room, we put our sneakers in our dry bag, got on our high top water boots on, put on our parkas, then the life vests and gloves. Before entering onto the Zodiac cruise ship, we had to dunk our boots in Virkon, to make sure we weren't bringing any bacteria or viruses onto the land in Antarctica. 

Race Day Zodiac Landing

Getting to the Starting Line

Ready To Run_ YADAH (Hands to God with Praise)!

To say the Antarctica Half was the toughest half marathon that I have ever run would be an understatement! I am telling you, it was tough, but not just one reason made it tough, it was for several reasons:
  1. You did not run on pavement - you were on rocks and gravel. At some points, you were running through mud or hopping over puddles, that eventually became mudier as the day went on since the half race is an out and back three times and six times for the marathon. 
  2. It is relentlessly hilly. Some so steep that the rocks and gravel crumble under your sneakers, making it hard to gain traction - especially as the legs get tired. It was the first race where I felt my legs and glutes burning as I climb/ran to the top if each hill.
  3. There was a point during the race, where there was a mud lake. I must have faded out when approaching it, likely glucose-deprived, and I panicked. I yelled to a few runners or volunteers, "Where should I go?" They pointed to come towards them, around the mud and up another hill. It wore on me after awhile!
  4. There were no water stops, you could not bring a cup - you could drop off bottles at certain points, but then you were responsible for bringing them back too. Since Ron was a volunteer, he kept my water bottle by the start/finish/turnaround point. I didn't drink water the first out and back, just the second time around. It was so cold, it burned going down. The last out and back, I decided to not drink the water.
No Matts - Jumping over these wires became more difficult with each turnaround!
No Mattas - Just Wires!

During the first loop, I gave Ron my windbreaker and gloves. Later, towards the turn around, my hands felt very cold. Ron asked if I wanted water or the gloves before my last loop. I said no to both. I instantly regretted passing on the gloves. 

Towards the turnaround, you climb up the side of a hill. The wind was very strong. My hands were very cold and my chest burned when I was breathing. The last leg back, I was still hanging with a young runner from NYC. I was yelling go to the left, to the right, everytime a mud puddle would come up. 

Somewhere along those last few miles, I got super dizzy. I was also very nauseous. I think being on the boat for three days -  rocking, being dehydrated from the IBD, and then running this very hilly half, constantly looking down to prevent landing in the mud or turning an ankle - made me super dizzy. I had to slow  - and had to walk a little - I was afraid I was going to pass out in the mud. I kept thinking how awful it would be if I landed flat on my face, in the mud.

I screamed a few times, "Keep running," to stay focussed and to stop thinking about the dizziness. I scared a few people around me. 

The very last hill, I slowed to a walk. I thought, "Catch your breath enough so that you can run up and over the top and all the way through to the finish line. Let Ron see you come in at full stride.
"Start now? No, walk a few more steps . . ."
"Start now? No, walk a few more steps . . ."
"Start now? No, walk a few more steps . . ."
"Start now? Yes . .  full on sprint up and over the hill to the finish! You got this girl!" So my knees were crying in pain, but I planned finishing with a smile on my face, hands to God and praise on my lips!

Antarctica Half Marathon Finisher 2023

Since there are only 100 people allowed on the island at one time, as soon as you finish, they want you off the island. Then, the next bunch of runners can land and start their race. 

Ron had to help me get undressed and dressed. My hands were frozen. In fact, for a few days, I could not feel my fingers and they tingled. Ron helped untie my sneakers, zip my dry pants over the waterproof pants, zip up the blue parka, and buckle my life preserver. 

Struggling with Getting My Sneakers Untied

Then off to walk through the cold water and onto the zodiac boat and back to the ship. I remember the zodiac driver saying, "C'mon, hop up and swing your legs in!" To which I replied, "What legs?" 

Mission Accomplished, Headed Back!

I finished 4th female overall, first in my age group (50-59). 2:25:38 My slowest and most difficult half marathon!

Of Course, Never Forget!

Holding Back the Tears #notenoughroad

Ron and I had a good cry. It took awhile before I got warm. Marathoners who had not left yet were asking me lots of questions:
Was it cold?
What should I wear?
Am I overdressed?
What was it like?
Is it muddy?
Are there lots of hills?
Was it difficult?

It is indescribable. Painful and gleeful, lots up ups, lots of downs - just like life!

Until next post, 

Train Hard,

Run Happy,

Run To Inspire

and God Bless America!